This digital world that we live in makes it possible to travel all over the planet without ever leaving your comfy chair. Since the publication of Finding the Gypsy in Me in August, I have met people from all over the world who have purchased my book, read it, subscribed to my website, and have been kind enough to drop me a line. It is fun to wake up in the morning and find my inbox full of mail from the most unexpected places.
Jemma and James have a house-sitting business in Scotland. They interviewed me a while back for their website and now it’s my turn to interview them. It is always refreshing to hear about people who have created an inventive lifestyle, but other house sitters, well, that is especially fun for me.
Here’s what Jemma and James had to say:
What led you to become pet and house sitters?
Initially we stumbled across housesitting because we wanted to travel. We were planning on taking a year (or possibly more) out to see the world, but because we both work freelance (or try at least), the traditional route of getting an around the world ticket and staying in hostels just wasn’t feasible. We need a reliable internet connection to make money. We had considered emigrating to a country where living costs were lower than what we were earning, but we really wanted to live in Western Europe (Spain, France, Portugal, etc) and possibly spend time in the U.S. and Canada. That idea was only going to get us around half the world.
When we discovered housesitting we knew it was the right option. Although we’d started by looking for a way to get a decent roof over our heads, we ended up with a system that would offer us a chance to live in a country and really get to know it: the chance to make some new four-legged friends and the chance to live in parts of a country that we might otherwise not have got to see. The day we found out about housesitting was definitely a very happy one.
Have you had a large variety of assignments? Favorites? Repeats?Every assignment is different; even if you have two housesits that are within a short drive of each other, the requirements of each can vary so much. We’ve housesat one week in the middle of nowhere and then spent the next week housesitting in the middle of a city.
So far there hasn’t been an assignment where, if we were available in the area again, we would turn down. Maybe we’ve been lucky but with all of our assignments so far we’ve never wanted them to end.
Do you prefer local assignments or international? Explain your preference.International housesits are obviously great and they’re particularly ideal if they’re in a country where we’re planning on learning the language. For example we’re heading to France this Autumn and are going to be there for more than half a year learning the language, eating cheese and getting to know the culture (eating cheese is a big part of the plan).
That said, we’ve also done housesits close to home; within walking distance of our house, even, and it’s still felt like a holiday. We got to see a new area, or an old area from a different perspective, and it provided us with an unexpected break. So while it’s natural to want the international housesits to happen (who doesn’t want to mind a house in Barbados?), we’d also recommend keeping an eye out for local assignments as well. At the very least they’ve provided us with some great experience which will no doubt serve us well in the future.
Do you have another source of income?
Unless there’s a very unusual condition (such as a last-minute housesitting assignment that we need to travel to) we don’t charge for housesitting. Because of that it’s essential that we have another source of income. Luckily both of us work in industries that allow us to work remotely, although working freelance and depending on yourself for income can be quite scary sometimes. We
What are your future goals for your house sitting business?
That’s a good question. When we first got started a lot of our goals were very short-term. We needed to get a website, we needed to get recommendations on our housesitting profiles and we had a list the size of our arms of things to organise for the next housesit. We’re quite meticulous note-takers and we were constantly ‘optimising’ our housesitting approach (and continue to do so) working out what worked and what didn’t and building up processes and daily routines so that we could ensure a very happy homeowner and pets.
These days we’re not running around like headless chickens as much. Even though we have more time to think about these sort of things, we continue to consider the basics of ‘how can we provide a better housesitting experience for homeowner and pet’ which in turn provides us with more housesitting opportunities. Long-term travel is still a big personal goal for us and building up that reputation and those connections is important for finding more opportunities.
Any advice for others who would like to try to do what you are doing?
Sure. One thing that’s worth mentioning is to think really hard about whether you’re cut out for this. Sometimes housesitting is a really easy job and sometimes it’s really very hard. People are trusting you with their homes and often their pets as well. If something goes wrong with the house there’s usually an insurance company to sort that out (although I still wouldn’t want to be the bearer of bad news) but with pets it’s a different story. A lot of the pets we’ve looked after have had medical conditions that require very specific care and attention. If you’re just looking for a cheap holiday, think again. There can be a lot of responsibility and pressure and if your heart isn’t in the right place I would find an alternative means of travelling about.
We also had one housesit where we were told we would have to watch out for roaming criminals trying to steal the electrical cables from outside (they had preyed on the house a few weeks before). Getting up in the middle of the night to find out why the dog’s barking in that sort of situation is not for the faint-hearted; luckily for us it was just some stray cats, but we had to be prepared to deal with a worst case scenario.
That said, if you think you are cut out for the job you can really offer homeowners a real helping hand. Start by offering to housesit and look after pets for friends and family who want a break, even if it’s just an overnight. Don’t be afraid to approach them – those first references are really important in the first few months. Taking care of pets (the majority of housesits we’ve done have included pet minding) is also vital experience. Read adverts and forum posts from people looking for housesitters and try to get your experience and expertise to line up with that: we offered to clean pools and do gardening for friends and family when we first started and asked a million questions about their pets as we knew this was experience that people would be looking for.
James & Jemma run ‘The House Sitting Couple’, a house and pet sitting service they offer to home and pet owners who need someone to care for their pets and property whilst they’re away.